Demise of dinosurs some 66 million years ago by a cosmic impact* ought to tell us some sobering facts. Like the stone that was hewn without hands in the Book of Daniel a meteorite wiped out the Giants that walked on the earth. Mammals at that time were precariously trying to get a toehold and on the slow stream of life man was holding on. Now we are the dominat species at least on the basis of wholescale impact we have on everything else. Plastics? Why we invented it and made it on a commercial basis so it made profit for industries that took up production all across the globe. It was so pervasive no household could do without it. It had of course its practical appliciation but the oceans are now chokeful of it so much we are fated to ingest it from marinelife that we catch. The simple organisms like sponge that played a large part in cleaning up the ocean beds are dying and corals are bleached due to the climatic changes. Welcome to the age of anthropocene.
We have been pretty careless with our environment. As homo sapiens man exploits his ‘wisdom’ but for what? He carried beads and baubles, which were trinkets in the Old World but novelty for natives in the New World. What wisdom is in extending scorched earth policy all across the world? Now we are told to expect some pretty fundamental changes when we are no longer the planet’s dominant animal species.
So if we were given the chance to peek forward in time at the Earth some 50m years after our disappearance, what would we find? Which animal or group of animals would “take over” as the dominant species? Would we have a Planet of the Apes, as imagined in popular fiction? Or would the Earth come to be dominated by dolphins, or rats,- or cockroaches or ants?
The question has inspired a lot of popular speculation and many writers have offered lists of candidate species. Before offering any guesses, however, we need to carefully explain what we mean by a dominant species.
Of all the species that were arguably dominant animals at some stage in the history of the Earth, humans are alone in their remarkable intelligence and manual dexterity. It follows that such traits are neither requirements for being dominant among animals, nor particularly likely traits to evolve. Evolution does not favour intelligence for its own sake, but only if it leads to higher survival and reproductive success. We exhausted our opportunities in ideologies capitalism or socialism. Even in matters of belief-system our stupidity is so egregious that we preach what we do not understand. We kill but do not cure stupidity of others by it. Why kill another for an idea? It shall never stay true but change with time.
Even if humans succumb to a global pandemic that affects relatively few other mammals, the great apes are precisely the species that are most at risk of contracting any new diseases that drive us from the Earth.
Consequently when we speak of dominant species this article of intelligence need be qualified as that raises the level every other species. Of nature putting balances and checks so no species may free ride at expense of others we need accept as good.
It is a profound mistake to imagine that our successors are likely to be especially intelligent or social creatures, or that they will be capable of speech, or adept with human technology.
So what can we safely speculate about the dominant species, some 50m years after humanity? (Ack: the Conversation-Jan. 26/luc bussiere-univ.of Stirling)
* The Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) extinction event, also known as the Cretaceous–Tertiary (K–T) extinction, was a mass extinction of some three-quarters of the plant and animal species on Earth—including all non-avian dinosaurs—that occurred over a geologically short period of time approximately 66 million years( wikipedia)